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By ESPN Staff

O'Neill backs Young to prove his worth

Martin O'Neill is convinced Aston Villa striker Ashley Young 'will prove worth every penny' they spent on him as he prepares for his first full season with the midlands club.

O'Neill admitted he paid slightly over the odds to sign Young from Watford in January, with the possibility of an initial £8million fee eventually rising to a club record £9.65m.

The England Under-21 player took time to adjust to life at Villa Park and the higher expectation levels of supporters.

But there were encouraging signs towards the end of the campaign, and Young has continued that form during Villa's pre-season tour of Canada and North America after impressing for his country in the European Championships in Holland.

O'Neill said: 'I would have liked to have paid less for Ashley in January but over the course of the next three or four years, he will prove worth every penny of the fee.

'I genuinely think that. It is not just because I paid for him and want to try to justify it. Hopefully the justification will come in the next couple of seasons,

'I expected him to take some time to settle down after coming here. It wouldn't have mattered whether he cost us £200,000 or £8m, I would have still said the same thing.

'For him to have come in and taken the place by storm straight away would have been asking an awful lot

'I've got no question that Ashley Young will be brilliant for us and he has been in good form in the build-up to this season. There is no question that he will be a top-quality player for us.'

Villa continue their build-up to the new campaign at Stoke tonight with O'Neill still searching for a right-back after the departures of Aaron Hughes, to Fulham, and Phil Bardsley - following a loan spell from Manchester United.

Olof Mellberg has filled the role competently enough in the past when Villa have encountered injury problems but he prefers to play centre-back.

The need for a new goalkeeper has also heightened now that Thomas Sorensen will miss the start of the season with a hamstring injury.

O'Neill's only experienced keeper is Stuart Taylor and he will want to avoid a repeat of last season when he had to loan Gabor Kiraly from Crystal Palace.

Meanwhile, Villa's latest signing, American teenager Eric Lichaj, will be sidelined until September while he recovers from a broken foot.

Lichaj suffered the injury before he put pen to paper on a two-year deal with Villa but the club still went ahead with the signing because of his potential.

The 18-year-old defender, who previously played for Chicago Magic, has already represented the United States at Under-17 and Under-20 level.

The player is clearly been identified as a long-term prospect by Martin O'Neill and will initially be part of Villa's academy squad.

Lichaj, who was formerly at the University of North Carolina, is Villa's first American signing since Randy Lerner, the owner of Cleveland Browns, took control of the club 12 months ago.

His agent Steve Kelly confirmed: 'Eric has signed a two-year deal with options. He was injured before he signed for Aston Villa but they saw his talent before that.'